Even championship-caliber teams have position battles during Spring Training. With a good idea of who the 25 men making the Opening Day roster, a few position and roster battles loom heading into this season.
With a place on the team is set, John Mayberry, Laynce Nix and Ty Wigginton are all battling it out for the first base and left field openings left by now-Yankee Raul Ibanez and injured Ryan Howard.
Kyle Kendrick, Joe Blanton and Joel Pineiro are looking to win the fifth starter’s spot of the rotation. Even Domonic Brown is hoping he can impress the Phillies this spring in hopes to skip a trip to Lehigh Valley at the end of March.
Lastly, and possibly the most interesting battle this spring belongs to who the Phillies 25th man will be. With Ben Francisco traded to the Toronto Blue Jays, a spot for an outfield bench player has been vacated.
The top two candidates for that spot are both veteran players with similar traits: Scott Podsednik and Juan Pierre.
Both Pierre and Podsednik have been in the league for over 10 years, though Podsednik spent last season in Lehigh. Both can hit for average but with little pop and both can steal bases.
It’s all going to come down to which player the Phillies believe will fit the most important role on the team.
Pierre doesn’t strike out a whole lot and is a singles hitter. His game is small ball, something Charlie Manuel said he wants to see Shane Victorino and Jimmy Rollins do more of this season.
Podsednik is a better fielder and can fill in as a late-inning defensive replacement aside with providing the speed on the base paths.
Both players could see their shot at cracking the roster in jeopardy though with Brown’s early emergence this spring. Brown said before Spring Training play started that he is here to win a job.
With Brown’s presence in red pinstripes a possibility, that leaves the line up in flux at the start of the season. This is due to the new vacancy in left field along with Howard’s absence due to a ruptured Achilles sustained in the last at-bat of the NLDS.
In the off season, the Phillies got the left-handing hitting Nix to compete with Mayberry in left field. They also added Wigginton to give the Phillies depth at first and third base.
With Placido Polanco sitting the first couple games this spring, the Phils have played Wigginton at third, Mayberry at first and Brown in left field. Brown is trying to win a starting spot this season rather than being sent down to Triple-A Lehigh in April.
Though it’s unlikely Brown will leap frog two establish Major League ready outfielders at season’s start, he could find his way back with the big club by midseason.
That leaves the position of first base and left field still open to Wigginton, Nix and Mayberry. The Phillies could go with a handful of different combinations: Mayberry in left/Wigginton at first; Nix in left; Wigginton at first; Nix in left;Mayberry at first.
In terms of pitching, the Phillies have a set rotation already with Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Vance Worley. With Roy Oswalt still a free agent, a spot has opened back up for Blanton and Kendrick to vie for.
Pineiro, who was signed to a minor league contract in the off season, has also thrown his hat into the ring to try and win a job back in the major leagues.
The 33-year-old Pineiro has spent 12 years in the bigs, most recently with the Angels. Lat season, he posted a 7-7 record and 5.13 ERA in 24 starts (27 appearances total). On Sunday, he made his spring debut and gave up three runs, one earned in two innings of work against the Yankees.
Kendrick is coming off of one of the best seasons in his five-year career.
Bouncing back and forth between the rotation and bull pen when Oswalt, Blanton and Hamels were hurt, Kendrick posted a 3.22 ERA in 34 appearances, 15 of them starts. In those 15 starts, he was 5-4 with a 3.14 ERA in 83 innings of work.
Kendrick will make his spring debut on Tuesday against the Blue Jays.
Blanton has the advantage though. With Kendrick proving he can be a valuable bull pen option, Blanton can very easily win the fifth starter’s spot on that alone. That is, if Blanton is healthy enough and pitches well enough during the spring.
Coming off a season filled with elbow problems that sidelined him since the All-Star Break, Blanton is hoping to at least contribute to part of his $8.5 million he’s set to make this season.
Blanton will make his spring debut today against the Yankees.